So approximately every 10 minutes or so there is another discussion about Sonny Gray, Yu Darvish and Justin Verlander going to teams that may be looking to improve their starting rotation for the last two months of the 2017 season and potential playoff runs. The Yankees of course, are invariably mentioned as a potential landing spot for one of the three.
Let’s get the most important part of this out of the way first:
Sonny Gray is the best pitcher of the three without debate. He’s ranks better than Darvish in ERA+, Fielding Independent Pitching, Base on balls percentage, and opponents’ on base percentage. He trails Darvish in strikeouts per nine innings and strikeout percentage, barely.
I wrote he’s the best pitcher, because that makes the issue of salary and contracts (which people LOVE to discuss) irrelevant. But if you’re still on the fence, Gray makes poverty level money by MLB standards and will for two more years. Darvish is a free agent at the end of this season.
Verlander? Irrelevant to this discussion. 34 years old, is owed the value of the GDP of a 3rd world country, ranks third among the three mentioned and would be the 5th starter in the Yankees rotation.
So clearly if you want somebody, Gray is your guy.
Here are the questions that need to be answered:
A) Do you believe the Yankees are a good enough team to win the World Series this season?
B) If they’re close, do you believe Sonny Gray significantly improves their chances to do so?
C) If you get Sonny Gray and you make the playoffs, who doesn’t make the playoff rotation – Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, C.C. Sabathia or Masahiro Tanaka?
D) Is the loss of prospects worth a return of Sonny Gray?
As to question A, I think the Yankees are good enough to win the World Series this season. I think they were the best team in baseball when Hicks, Holliday and Castro were lost to the disabled list. I understand some very smart people would disagree, mentioning the Astros and Dodgers among others, quite likely. But I think a healthy Yankee roster is close enough that the toss up of a playoff series (don’t convince yourself it’s anything else) is worth the risk.
To question B, I think it’s highly unlikely. Sonny Gray, may – MAY – make the Yankees better for two months, but not any better in the post season (see below for more on that). According to his WAR, he may be worth one more win to the Yankees over the rest of the season than a replacement player. Is that better than what Chance Adams would do? Unlikely. And if it were, is one-win worth giving up prospects for?
Question C is where things become interesting, because Sonny Gray would be at best the Yankees 3rd best starting pitcher. The two he may be better than are Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia and I don’t see the Yankees sending either of them to bullpen duty should the team make the playoffs.
Among Severino, Montgomery, Tanaka, Sabathia and Gray, Gray would rank:
3rd in ERA+, 2nd in FIP, 3rd in K%, 4th in BB%, 3rd in K% and 2nd in opponents’ OBP.
In other words, he’d be the Yankees 3rd or 4th best starter. If you factor in past history above and beyond 2017, Tanaka is a much better pitcher, making Gray your likely number 4 starter.
Having said all that, the answer to question D is obviously no. Gray only improves your chances to make the post season infinitesimally and he doesn’t make your potential playoff starting rotation any better.
I wrote about the Yankees’ prospect Estevan Florial two weeks ago – he’s their best A ball player and he’s a kid to watch. I’ve seen his name more than once as a possible piece to land a starting pitcher, which would be a colossal mistake.
If you can get Sonny Gray for a C grade prospect, it may be worth it, although I’d still rather see Chance Adams. But under no circumstances should any valued prospects be dealt.